Last Thursday, I looked at the weather and saw that soon, San Antonio would be sitting in a multi-week rain cloud. I hadn’t run in days – in fact, I hadn’t exercised much in days. My body desperately needed to MOVE. Looking at the possibility of being flooded out for weeks, I threw on my running clothes and headed out to the park.
My next scheduled run for the Couch to 5K program was Week 5, Day 1, which consisted of three five-minute runs with three-minute walking breaks between them. For anyone who has done C25K in the past, you might recognize the dreaded Week 5. From Day 1’s fairly innocuous pattern, you jump to two eight-minute runs on Day 2 (a reasonable increase), to a frickin’ twenty minute nonstop run on Day 3. From my own personal history and the stories I’ve heard from many others trying to attempt this program, this last day of Week 5 is where folks often fall apart. Twenty minutes is a LONG time to run nonstop, especially when the longest you’ve done previously is eight minutes, and for most of the program, it’s been five minutes max. It’s a really huge jump and a valid reason to struggle. It’s also extraordinarily intimidating.
When I finished Week 4, I felt good. In fact, I felt so good that I no longer felt intimidated by Week 5. I’ve been doing this program in a way that kept me running slow, steady, and gentle. I’ve focused on keeping my breath calm and my heart rate down. There’ll be the occasional day when I feel like pushing hard, and as long as I can do that without hurting myself, I don’t mind doing so. But mostly, I’ve tried to run in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m dying by the time my program says, “Walk!” And I felt like I could do that nonstop twenty minutes. It might not be fun, but I could do it.
So when I went out to the park last Thursday, I decided to skip Days 1 and 2 of Week 5. Day 3 is the intimidating one, the big hurdle, and I wasn’t going to let weeks of rain delay me facing it. I put in my headphones, turned on my music, and hit Go.
Five minutes of warm-up walk later, and I was off.
My pace was very slow. Later, when I looked at RunKeeper, I found that I held a pretty steady pace of 3.6 mph, or a 16:40/mi. For the entire twenty minutes. Because I did it. I jumped over that hurdle and left it behind me. And you know what? I was okay. I felt okay. When the program told me that I was halfway through, I was surprised, because I’d estimated that only about seven minutes had passed. When I was told that I had one minute left, I had enough gas left in the tank to speed up to a (slightly) faster pace for that last bit. I felt like I could have held up that pace for a lot longer than twenty minutes, and that’s HUGE. It’s like coming over the mountain – the rest is downhill from here.
During my twenty-minute run, I achieved three major milestones. First, it was the longest time I’ve run nonstop since 2014 (back when I was 75-80 lbs lighter and had been running regularly for three years!). Second, it was the furthest distance I’ve run nonstop since then as well. Third, and my favorite: I’ve run a full mile several times since last September, but it’s always been on a route that’s 2/3rds to 3/4ths downhill. In last week’s run, I ran 1.2 miles nonstop on level ground, no slope to help me out at all (which makes a MAJOR difference!). That last milestone was also one of my current running goals. It’s not a mile PR by any stretch of the imagination – downhill means faster without as much effort – but it feels better than a PR. It feels like achievement. It IS achievement. My face afterwards says it all.